February is Low Vision Awareness Month—but many people aren’t aware of this important eye health circumstance that is caused by a series of eye conditions. According to the National Eye Institute, approximately 3 million Americans age 40 and older have low vision.

So what exactly is low vision?
Essentially it’s where eyesight is extremely impaired, even with attempted correction (like prescription glasses). And for many, it’s considered legal blindness. Low vision isn’t a disease; however it’s usually attached with other age- and health-related conditions, including: diabetes, macular degeneration, glaucoma, and cataracts. There are also other less-commonly known eye issues, for example Basal Laminar Drusen, a condition that mimics macular degeneration and causes irreversible vision loss; and Usher Syndrome, which affects both hearing and vision.

Should you be concerned?
For some, low vision is a reality that may come with age. For others, there may be a deeper condition to look out for. Either way, when you find yourself having difficulty seeing during simple tasks like identifying faces, reading the newspaper, cooking, and writing, it’s time to visit an eye doctor. The sooner vision loss is recognized, the greater your probabilities are of keeping any remaining vision. Your VSP eye doctor will help determine if you’re experiencing low vision and the source of the condition.

Living with low vision
Clear vision and a sense of independence go hand-in-hand, so low vision aids are key for people living with low vision. There are visual aids available, such as magnifiers that make things appear bigger. Several varieties of magnifiers include:

  • Eyeglass-mounted. Magnifiers and telescopes can be placed directly on glasses. Magnifiers are for close-up tasks and telescopes for seeing things farther away.
  • Hand-held and tabletop. For on-the-go activities, hand-held magnifiers help people take better vision with them. The tabletop variety is great for working on crafts at home.
  • Electro-optical systems.These complex-sounding tools are special closed-circuit TV devices that make video images larger.

Visit your VSP eye doctor to learn about which visual aids will work best for you. As conditions evolve, there are advancements in technologies that can help with independence. More services like therapy and rehabilitation may also be necessary to work on techniques for living with low vision.

For more info, check out Bill Barkeley’s story and how he’s conquering adventures while living with Usher Syndrome. Or read Renee’s story about her life with Basal Laminar Drusen, and how VSP has generated a movement to explore new ways to better support the blind and low vision community.


The content of this article is for general informational awareness purposes only, and is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Please consult your eye care doctor or physician for actual advice, diagnosis, or treatment. This article is the work of the attributed author and does not necessarily represent the views or opinions of VSP. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.

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Dr. Matt Alpert is the owner and lead optometrist at Alpert Vision Care in Woodland Hills, CA.